Communication is Good Medicine
“In my very worst "off" times . . . The insidious cluster of PD symptoms . . . makes communication, written as well as spoken, difficult and sometimes impossible.” Michael J. Fox, Lucky Me.
Learning and practicing healthy communication skills is a foundation for couple and relational wellness. The couple who live with PD can use patterns of speaking and listening to facilitate understanding and warm connection. But how does the PD couple weather the storm of neurological short circuits?
Michael J. Fox, in his autobiographical book Lucky Me, describes how PD symptom erupts and turns off the physical ability to speak and express. At these times, standard communication skills don’t work, they are off line.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
The PD couple needs to learn how to be bilingual in order to manage “on” and “off-line” communication. Below are some PD recurring communication obstacles. Following are some suggestions for how to translate respect and a warm connection toward each other that is not dependent on speech or facial expression.
Worry about the future, loss of control, change in relationship roles can strain a relationship.
“Hypophonia” is the medical term for the PD symptom that weakens the voice. For example, Muhammad Ali’s speech sounds whispery and faint. As much as Ali may want to turn up the volume, the will of this amazing human being and champion fighter remains “on the mat” unable to move in familiar ways. He can't shift volume or tone. He can't "Just Do It".
“Hypomimia” impacts the muscle function of the lips, jaw and tongue. The face looks flat and expressionless, like a mask. The face doesn't move and person may appear disinterested..
FROM SHUT IN AND SHUT OUT TO WARM AND CONNECTED.
- Take the time to stop and listen to your partner with PD. Otherwise he/she may just stop talking since they are not ‘heard’.
- Don’t forget to touch. The warmth and connectedness of a simple touch can go far when reconnecting. See article on relationships, sex and intimacy.
- At times you may feel like you signed up for French, but find yourself stuck in a language class with a different alphabet and culture. Practice speaking and listening with the heart instead of the brain.
- Find a quiet moment on a regular basis (once a day or weekly) to speak from the heart. Let your loved one know what you appreciate, miss or how you are feeling.
- The person with PD can learn to identify and reduce some of the stressors that aggravate symptoms. The spouse practices this as well, individually and together.
- Each person in the couple learns to recognize the onset of body sensations that signal “off” and “on” facial expression and speech; and is aware of their reactions to these transitions. Just knowing that lack of facial expression does ot mean the person with PD is disinterested helps.
- Breathe. Reduce frustration, guessing, assumptions and the weariness of trying to reboot ordinary communication skills when they are unplugged. Fear and pity increase isolation, damage self-esteem and distort power.
- Explore different ways to communicate warmth and connection. Cultivate respect, compassion, patience and communication during “on” times. Develop a strategy for the “off” times. Partnering together will enrich and empower your connection, even when your plan is out of reach.
- Use humor and your spiritual resources to remind you both that your relationship to self and each other is bigger than PD.
“Finally, as if being pulled by the force of a vacuum, the tension disappears, departing through the sole of my left shoe. The extension of my arms, and rolling of my head, are simply my body's way of celebrating the reunion of mind and motion . . . Without my even realizing it, my whole symptom management changed. I began to see that being 'off'...was really only a problem if I found it troublesome... (for example) javing Parkinson's at an auction can be an expensive proposition." Michael J. Fox, Lucky Man.
Anna Satenstein, MA is Evergreen Healthcare’s Health Education Coordinator for Integrative Medicine. In addition, she is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Relational Life Coach in Kirkland, WA.